Saturday, January 24, 2009

I'M OFF to the St. Mary's College Burns Night Supper, this year celebrating the 250th anniversary of Robert Burns's birth. (I know we're a night early, but that's just how the scheduling worked out.)
APRIL DECONICK asks, What can I contribute to The Jesus Project? With people like April and James Crossley involved in the Jesus Project, I'm optimistic that it will produce some significant contributions.
ARAMAIC WATCH: The Mor Gabriel Syriac Orthodox Monastery in Turkey has become the center of a land controversy:
Christian monastery in Turkey fights to keep land
Wed Jan 21, 2009 8:02pm EST

21 Jan 2009

By Ibon Villelabeitia

MIDYAT, Turkey (Reuters) - In a remote village near the Turkish-Syrian border, a land dispute with neighboring villages is threatening the future of one of the world's oldest functioning Christian monasteries.

Critics say the dispute, which has become a rallying cry for Christian church groups across Europe, is a new chapter in the long history of religious persecution of the small Christian community by the Turkish state.

Tucked amid rugged hills where minarets rise in the distance, a small group of monks chants in Aramaic, the language of Jesus Christ, inside the fifth-century Mor Gabriel monastery. It is a relic of an era when hundreds of thousands of Syriac Christians lived and worshipped in Turkey.

"This is our land. We have been here for more than 1,600 years," said Kuryakos Ergun, head of the Mor Gabriel Foundation, surveying the barren land and villages from the monastery's rooftop. "We have our maps and our records to prove it. This is not about land. It's about the monastery."

The dispute, on which a court is due to rule on February 11, is testing freedom of religion and human rights for non-Muslim minorities in this overwhelmingly Muslim country that aspires to join the European Union.

The row began when Turkish government land officials redrew the boundaries around Mor Gabriel and the surrounding villages in 2008 to update a national land registry.

The monks say the new boundaries turn over to the villages large plots of land the monastery has owned for centuries, and designate monastery land as public forest. Christian groups believe officials want to ultimately stamp out the Syriac Orthodox monastery.

AINA reports on a response in Europe:
"Save the monastery of Mor Gabriel, save Christendom in Turkey" -- that is the slogan of a huge demonstration planned for Sunday, Jan. 15, in Berlin. Its aim is to help safeguard the existence of Mor Gabriel -- also known as the Monastery of St. Gabriel -- which is the spiritual center of Syrian-Orthodox Christians in Turkey. Founded in 397, it is the oldest surviving Syriac Orthodox monastery in the world. It is located on the Tur Abdin plateau in Southeastern Turkey, the motherland of the Syriac people. Its main purpose is to keep Syriac Orthodox Christianity alive in the land of its birth by providing schooling and the ordination of native-born monks. Throughout its long history, it has also provided physical protection to Turkey's Christian minority. The so-called "Action Mor Gabriel" was founded by S.E. Mor Julius Dr. Hanna Aydin, the Archbishop of the Syrian-Orthodox church of Antiochia in Germany in November 2008. It unites six organizations, namely the Archdiocese of Syrian-Orthodox Churches in Germany, the umbrella organization of Tur Abdin, the European Syriac Union, the Federation of Armenians in Germany, the Federation Survoye and the Central Council of Assyrian Associations in Germany. The managing director of the "Action Mor Gabriel" is Raid Gharib, a German citizen of Turkish descent. He is a political scientist working at the university of Tübingen on a Ph.D. entitled "Nation and identity of the Syriac Christians: The quest for a feasible societal model."

Friday, January 23, 2009

A CATALOGUE of the 800 Hebrew manuscripts in the Vatican:
Vatican catalogs its Hebrew manuscripts

January 21, 2009

ROME (JTA) -- With the help of Israeli scholars, the Vatican has published a catalog of the Hebrew manuscripts kept in its library.

Publication of the work, a Vatican communique said, "represents a significant example of co-operation between the cultural institutions of the Holy See and of Israel."

(Via Joseph I. Lauer's list.)
BOOK NOTE from Wesleyan University's page on recent alumni/ae doings:
Sharp ’85 Finds Irony in Hebrew Scriptures
In her fascinating new study, Irony and Meaning in the Hebrew Bible (Indiana University Press), Carolyn J. Sharp ’85, associate professor of Hebrew Scriptures at Yale Divinity School, suggests that many stories in the Hebrew Scriptures may be ironically intended. By interweaving literary theory and exegesis, she examines the power of the unspoken in a wide variety of texts from the Pentateuch, the Prophets, and the Writings. Her book considers such themes as foreign rulers and the fear of God, the prostitute as icon of the ironic gaze, indeterminacy and dramatic irony in prophetic performance, and irony in ancient Israel’s wisdom traditions.

Sharp pays special attention to how irony can challenge the dominant ways in which the Bible is read today, especially when it touches on questions of conflict, gender, and the other.

Sharp’s research continues to explore the composition, redaction, and rhetoric of Hebrew Scripture texts. She is also the author of Prophecy and Ideology in Jeremiah: Struggles for Authority in the Deutero-Jeremianic Prose; and Old Testament Prophets for Today.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

ARAMAIC WATCH: Another novel featuring a fictional Aramaic inscription:
The plot spins on a silver bracelet found in the sands of Myrtle Beach by Jesus with a metal detector. Jesus' real name is Gary, but the mysteriously inscribed bracelet briefly annoints him to followers Mark and Luke.

The bracelet passes through several hands in "Jesus Swept's" 276 pages: from Jesus to fiftysomething Liz Forsythe, the director of planned giving at Duke University, to redneck twins Hook and Sinker, the former nicknamed for the five-inch-long shark hook she ripped through her brother's bicep when he "tried his hand on her."

The inscription is translated by Liz's tiny, lesbian professor friend Gloria Grace in the Village of Weaver Woods. It turns out to be Aramaic and at least 1,000 years old. It's not giving anything away to say the inscription reads "Good works do. Kind and loving be. Joy in pleasure seek. ... These are the threads of life full filled."
How do you say that in Aramaic? In any case, I think Bill and Ted said it better with "Be excellent to each other" and "Party on, dudes!"
ANOTHER JESUS PROJECT ESSAY has been posted on the Bible and Interpretation website:
Jesus Projects and a Different Kind of Minimalism (Perhaps)

Historical Jesus scholarship still pushes the “great man” view of history with Jesus the individual massively influential. One of the ways in which the Jesus Project could provide a distinctive contribution to scholarship is to challenge and test this general scholarly assumption by analyzing broader socio-historical trends underlying the emergence of the historical Jesus and Christian origins.

By James Crossley
Senior Lecturer in New Testament Studies
Department of Biblical Studies
University of Sheffield, UK
January 2009
Crossley comes up with some ideas that might well move elements of the field of Christian Origins forward. Excerpt:
As Hoffmann pointed out, “the possibility that Christianity arose from causes that have little to do with a historical founder is one among many other questions the Project should take seriously. Inevitably, scholars and critics (if not always the same people) will ask, And just how do you go about doing that?, and neither the answer ‘Differently’ or ‘Better’ will suffice.” While my attitude towards historical Jesus studies is increasingly deconstructive, I hope I can add some constructive comments here and suggest ways in which the Project might go about “doing that,” namely ways to challenge or test the dominant assumption that Jesus was singularly so influential. There is enough work on social history and social anthropology and enough empirical data collected and analyzed to exploit these issues. Areas ripe for exploitation might include: social networks, ethnic interaction, and the origins of gentile inclusion; class-conflicts and the emergence of a new religion; universal monotheism, developments in communication, and the origins of the deification of Jesus; and so on. In each case, the influence of Jesus the individual could be tested. We might even get answers to big, big questions. Perhaps the historical Jesus was influential in changes which brought about Christian distinctiveness and identity, perhaps he was not, or perhaps his individual influence was somewhere in between. Perhaps broader socio-economic developments better explain change than the individual; in this case, we could add a further question: why was the figure of Jesus the object of affection? Perhaps Jesus’ teaching was a crucial factor in interacting with longer- and medium-term trends in historical development. Big though these questions undoubtedly are, they are not questions widely discussed in historical Jesus scholarship.
Go for 'em.

Background here.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


First, Antiques and the Arts Online reports on Sotheby's sales from the Delmonico Judaica Collection, including the following:
The sale's top price was achieved by an extremely rare and exquisite Fifteenth Century illuminated Tanakh, or Hebrew Bible, on vellum completed by Levi ben Aaron Halfan in Florence, 1489, which sold for $362,500. A series of 40 lots from the Babylonian Talmud printed in Venice by Daniel Bomberg, 11 of which derived from the only known copy printed on blue paper, more than doubled the high estimate to achieve $2.25 million. After spirited bidding, all 11 lots of Bomberg's Talmud printed on blue paper were purchased by a private collector, and will remain assembled as a collection.

Pair of George I parcel gilt silver Torah finials, William Spackman, London 1719–20, brought $338,500.
Pair of George I parcel gilt silver Torah finials, William Spackman, London 1719–20, brought $338,500.
Chief among these was four tractates printed on blue paper, which brought $230,500 against a presale estimate of $40/60,000. Two tractates on blue paper brought $206,500, and a single tractate on blue paper soared to $194,500.

Collectors also enthusiastically competed for the largest selection of Hebrew incunabula, or early printings, to come for sale in years, yielding strong prices for the first complete edition of the entire Mishnah, with the commentary of Maimonides, completed in Naples, 1492, which achieved $254,500. Nahmanides' Perush ha-Torah (Commentary on the Pentateuch), Rome, 1469–73, which totaled $338,500; and the Teshuvot She'elot (Answers and Questions) by Solomon ben Abraham ibn Adret, Rome, 1469–73, which brought $302,500.
Second, LiveAuctioneers is advertising a 1611 Hebrew/Latin biblical fascicle:
1611, Book, "Daniel, Hezra, & Nechemiah", printed in Hebrew and Latin, Fine.
Original 1611 printing of the books of Daniel, Ezra, and Nehemiah, 7.25" x 4.5", hardcover, 134 pages. This rare, early 17th Century work was printed in Antwerp, Belgium by Officina Plantiniana Raphelengii. This volume has a Hebrew text with interlinear Latin translation, by the celebrated Dominican scholar, Santes Pagninus (i.e. Pagnini, 1470-1536). Bound in old sheep skin or leather (most of which has worn off), generally the book is clean internally. The cover is well worn, the hinges cracked, and there is an institutional stamp on the title page. The pages are numbered from 415 to 548, and the volume opens and reads in traditional Hebrew format (from right to left, and back to front). The Dominican friar's Latin version of the Hebrew Bible, the first since St. Jerome's, contributed greatly to virtually every 16th Century scriptural translator.

All I can say is that I hope that the collectors who bought or buy these items don't go dark with them. They should remain available for scholars of the Renaissance and the early modern period to study.
ARAMAIC WATCH: The manuscript digitization project in Kerala, India, gets some slightly garbled coverage in ExpressBuzz. Excerpt:
[Dr Mar] Aprem, who is the author of the book ‘Teach yourself Aramaic’, said that after the release of Mel Gibson’s film ‘The Passion of Christ’ in 2004 with most of its dialogue in Aramaic, people in different part of the world are showing interest in knowing and learning the language.

The Metropolitan said that a body called Association for the Preservation of St Thomas Christian Heritage with close association of the Oriental Institute of the University of Tobingen, Germany
, the Syriac Institute USA, Hill Museum and Manuscript Library, USA, Central European University, Hungary and the Kerala Centre for Historical Research has been constituted for the purpose.

He is the honorary president of the association.

He said that initial efforts of the association would be to preserve through digitalisation of printed books, manuscripts both in paper and palm leaves, and other locally available documents in Syrian [That should be "Syriac" - JRD].

He said that he himself has a collection of about 250 manuscripts and printed books in Syrian language.
Background here.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

TC: A Journal of Biblical Textual Criticism has a new issue out (Volume 13 [2008]). Pete Williams has an article on the Syriac Peshitta of Romans and there are lots of book reviews of interest as well.
THE FIRE GOSPEL, Michel Faber's novel about newly recovered Aramaic scrolls about the life of Jesus, gets a couple more reviews. Excerpts below.

By Nancy Connors in the Plain Dealer:
In his way, Faber remains true to the Prometheus myth, but he also has a lot of fun: Theo's surname is the same as that of a German artist who painted a four-part mural of Prometheus, and his re-creation of Amazon reader comments about Theo's book is dead-on.
Yet there's a tenderness about humankind and our inarticulate, profound need to believe that shines through Faber's tale.

Or as Malchus himself writes: "The hand that holds the pen is attached to the body that aches and growls. And that is our misfortune, brothers and sisters: we speak of things that cannot be spoken. We seek to store understandings in our gross flesh that gross flesh cannot contain, like a madman who would snatch a moonbeam and put it in his purse."
By Stephen Finucan in the Toronto Star:
Faber's strength is his irreverence. No one is left unskewered, from academics and religious bumpkins to book publishers – not even the poor, soon-to-be-blown-to-smithereens curator of the Mosul museum is spared. The Fire Gospel is a very funny book.

Where it suffers is in the strictures placed upon it by the Myth series itself. Faber hasn't enough room here to flex his writerly muscles. In the end, the reader is left with is a collection of amusing set pieces more than a cohesive novel.
Background here.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Iraq worried that ancient Torah manuscripts were smuggled to Israel

The Iraqi Interior Ministry accused security companies working with the American military forces of attempting to smuggle out unique archeological artifacts, stating its concern that Babylonian-era Torah manuscripts were smuggled to Israel, the London-based daily Al-Hayyat reported.

Iraq is searching for over 9,400 artifacts that were lost or stolen since the start of the American-led invasion in May 2003.

Among these items are Babylonian-era Torah manuscripts taken by American forces. The US promised it would return the manuscripts in two years after their renovation, but there was "information pointing to the possibility that they had been smuggled to Israel," Gen. (ret.) Widah Nas'rat of the Interior Ministry's Criminal Investigations Department told Al-Hayyat.

I don't know what "Babylonian-era" means in this context. The manuscripts are very unlikely to be older than fairly late in the Middle Ages. There were stories in 2007 and 2008 about a several-hundred-year-old Torah Scroll being removed from Iraq under questionable circumstances (see here) and perhaps this is related.

Incidentally, this week is full of exam marking, meetings, and interviews, so blogging is likely to be relegated to evenings - if my strength holds out. I will try to pace such posts as I find time to write by pre-posting some of them.

UPDATE (20 January): It occurs to me that the 400-year-old Torah Scroll mentioned above was smuggled to Baltimore, so it probably is not related.

There's also an article on the possible Torah manuscripts taken to Israel in Arutz Sheva, but it has no new information.
THE JESUS PROJECT is the subject of another essay at the Bible and Interpretation website:
Rocks, Hard Places, and Jesus Fatigue: Jesus Seminar and Jesus Project

The following comments are not a direct response to Bruce Chilton’s very helpful article on the Jesus Project but in many ways anticipate and respond to some of his observations. I offer it as further commentary on the pros and cons of undertaking yet another “quest,” at a time when New Testament scholarship, in the eyes of some, is a mission without a guiding purpose.

By R. Joseph Hoffmann
R. Joseph Hoffmann (PhD, Oxford) is Chair of CSER, the Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion and co-Chair (with Robert M. Price and Gerd Luedemann) of The Jesus Project. He is Scholar in Residence (2009) at Goddard College and teaches History at Geneseo College (SUNY).
January 2009

Crouching somewhere between esthetic sound byte and historical detail is Michelangelo’s famous statement about sculpture. “The job of the sculptor,” Vasari attributes to il Divino, ”is to set free the forms that are within the stone.” It’s a lovely thought—poetic, in fact. If you accept the theory of Renaissance Platonism, as Michelangelo embodies it, you also have to believe that “Moses” and “David” were encased in stone, yearning to be released—as the soul yearns to be set free from the flesh in the theology of salvation. You will however be left wondering why such a theory required human models with strong arms and firm thighs, and why the finished product bears no more resemblance to real or imagined historical figures than a drawing that any one of us could produce. We may lack Michelangelo’s skill and his deft way with a rasp and chisel, but we can easily imagine more probable second millennia BC heroes—in form, stature, skin-tone, and body type—than the Italian beauties he released from their marble prisons. In fact, the more we know about the second millennia BC, the more likely we are to be right. And alas, Michelangelo didn’t know very much about history at all. And what’s more, it made no difference to his art, his success, or to his reputation. That is why idealism and imagination are sometimes at odds with history, or put bluntly, why history acts as a control on our ability to imagine or idealize anything, often profoundly wrong things.

If we apply the same logic to the New Testament, we stumble over what I have (once or twice) called the Platonic Fallacy in Jesus research. Like it or not, the New Testament is still the primary artifact of the literature that permits us to understand the origins of Christianity. It’s the stone, if not the only stone. If we possessed only gnostic and apocryphal sources as documentary curiosities and no movement that preserved them, we would be hard-pressed to say anything other than that at some time in the first and second century a short-lived and highly incoherent religious movement fluoresced and faded (many did) in the night sky of Hellenistic antiquity. The Jesus we would know from these sources would be an odd co-mixture of insufferable infant a la the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, a hell-robber, like the liberator of the Gospel of Nicodemus, a mysterious cipher, like the unnamed hero of the Hymn of the Pearl, or an impenetrable guru, like the Jesus of the gnostic Gospel of Thomas. Despite the now-yellowed axiom we all learned as first year divinity students of a certain generation and later in graduate school (the one where we are taught that “no picture of early Christianity is complete without availing ourselves of all the sources”), I will climb out on a limb to say that these sources are not so much integral to a coherent picture of early Christianity as they are pebbles in orbit around the gravitational center we call the canon. They are interesting—fascinating even—in showing us how uniformity of opinion and belief can wriggle out of a chaos of alterative visions (maybe the closest analogues are in constitutional history), but they are not the stone that the most familiar form of Christianity was made from. That recognition is as important as it is increasingly irrelevant to modern New Testament discussion.

My initial thoughts were (1) those metaphors need to rounded up and shot to put them out of their misery and (2) why "second millennia BC?" There was only one of them. But beyond the niggling, I think the point is that what we can learn from the earliest stage of Christian origins comes from the canonical Four Gospels and I don't have too much trouble with that, but I am keeping an open mind about the Nag Hammadi Gospel of Thomas and some of the early fragments.

The conclusions and as much of a positive agenda as appears in the essay come in the last two paragraphs:
When we considered developing the Jesus Project, it was not out of any malignant attempt to “prove” that Jesus did not exist. (The press releases have done an immeasurable disservice by harping on this as the agenda). As a Christian origins scholar by training, I am not even sure how one would go about such a task, or be taken seriously if it were undertaken. Yet the possibility that Christianity arose from causes that have little to do with a historical founder is one among many other questions the Project should take seriously. Inevitably, scholars and critics (if not always the same people) will ask, And just how do you go about doing that?, and neither the answer “Differently” or “Better” will suffice. The demon crouching at the door, however, is not criticism of its intent nor skepticism about its outcome, but the sense that biblical scholarship in the twentieth century will not be greeted with the same excitement as it was in Albright’s day. Outside America, where the landscape is also changing, fewer people have any interest in the outcomes of biblical research, whether it involves Jericho or Jesus. The secularization of world culture, which will eventually reach even into the Muslim heartlands, encourages us to value what matters here and now. As one of our members, Arthur Droge (Toronto) mentioned at the recent meeting of the Project in Amherst, NY, most of us were trained in a generation ”that believed certain questions were inherently interesting.” But fewer and fewer people do. Jesus-fatigue—the sort of despair that can only be compared to a police investigation gone cold—is the result of a certain resignation to the unimportance of historical conclusions.

Reaching for the stars and reaching back into history have in common the fact that their objects are distant and sometimes unimaginably hard to see. What I personally hope the Project will achieve is to eschew breaking rocks, and instead learning to train our lens in the right direction. Part of that process is to respond to Droge’s challenge: Why is this important? And I have the sense that in trying to answer that question, we will be answering bigger questions as well.
Hmmm ... I think there is still a great deal of popular interest in historical Jesus research, as exemplified recently by the mostly misguided interest in what the new Coptic Gospel of Judas could tell about the historical Jesus. Alas, the answer is "nothing," but I think the message did eventually get across that it tells lots of interesting things about second-century Jesus movements. There may well be Historical Jesus Fatigue among New Testament scholars, although Richard Bauckham's recent book, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses has certainly generated a lot of interest. But I do think there is a considerable amount of Jesus Seminar Fatigue. It would be nice if this new Jesus Project would help alleviate this by coming up with something new and interesting, but that remains to be seen. I'm skeptical, but I wish them the best.

Background here.

UPDATE: April DeConick has more on the Jesus Project here and on the Gospel of Judas here. The revised version of her book will be very welcome.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

THE UNICORN LEGEND owes its existence in part to a creative translation in the Septuagint:
The Natural History of Unicorns by Chris Lavers

The Sunday Times review by Rosemary Hill

In this beguiling book, Chris Lavers pursues the unicorn across two and a half millenniums, from the bas-reliefs of ancient Persia to the royal coat of arms of the United Kingdom by way of medieval tapestry. As a scientist, his main purpose is to find out what zoological truths lie behind the myth. But he is also a careful explorer of folklore, sifting fact from fiction.

The first known description of a unicorn comes in 398BC from the Greek doctor Ctesias of Cnidus, who in a book called Indica wrote about “certain wild asses which are as large as horses” and “have a horn on the forehead which is about a foot and a half in length”. This first unicorn was a colourful beast, white with a dark red head, blue eyes and a crimson, white and black horn. Lavers concedes that Ctesias was “a library type of fellow” who had never actually seen what he was describing, but that doesn't mean he was a fantasist. He was right, for example, about elephants, which must have seemed equally implausible to him, and about talking birds (which we now know as parrots).


More details were added to Ctesias's original picture over time, but for more than six centuries the legend of the beast whose single horn, if you could catch one, had curative properties remained in essence unchanged. The very different creature of later western myth - symbolic, semi-sacred - was born when the unicorn “popped up”, as Lavers puts it, most unexpectedly, in the Greek Old Testament. This beast of savage power, whose name in the Greek is translated from the curious Hebrew word “reem”, rampages through the books of Numbers, Deuteronomy, Job and several Psalms. “The unicorns shall come down with them,” Isaiah warns the enemies of God, “and their land shall be soaked with blood.”

Opinion divided sharply among early scholars as to what this Hebrew word “reem” might have meant. St Jerome in the 4th century was among those who thought it might perfectly well be a rhinoceros, and so it appeared in the Vulgate. To the more metaphysically inclined, though, something less lumbering and more spiritual seemed appropriate. Tertullian of Carthage saw the unicorn as a precursor of Christ that “pierces every race with faith”.

More on unicorns in the Bible here. And this and this are perhaps relevant as well.
MORE ON THE FACIAL RECONSTRUCTION of ancient Palestinian Jews:
Tel Aviv University researcher reconstructs ancient Israelite faces
By ISRAEL21c staff

January 18, 2009

Prof. Eugene Kobyliansky keeps two busts in his office. One represents the face of an average male Jew in ancient Israel from 332 to 37 B.C.E; the other is a composite face for Jewish women from the ancient Roman era (37 B.C.E. to 324 C.E.).

"It's like looking into a time machine, going back 2,000 years, to visit these people," says Kobyliansky.

Kobyliansky, of the Sackler Faculty of Medicine at Tel Aviv University, is the first researcher in the world to provide facial reconstructions of what Jews looked like in the land of Israel, before their exile into the Diaspora.

Using bone measurements collected from skulls at Jewish burial sites at Ein Gedi near the Dead Sea and the Jordan River, Kobyliansky created plastic molds on which to base the facial reconstructions. The technique was made possible through a unique forensics lab in Moscow, at the Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology of the Russian Academy of Sciences, which uses the most up-to-date software in anthropological facial reconstruction to recreate facial features from craniums with about 70 percent accuracy.

An earlier article noted that a female skull had some African features and drew perhaps unwarrantedly broad conclusions from it. This article is more cautious and gives what may be a more plausible explanation:
... The female skull also exhibits all the Mediterranean features but, in addition, there are probably some African traits, as manifested by the shape of the nose and face.

"This woman certainly had some African intermixture," Kobyliansky explains. "We know from history and the stories of King Solomon that there were Ethiopian Jews in Israel. In this particular female, we see some African traits. But maybe she was absolutely white in color. It's impossible to say."
THE IDEOLOGY OF MASADA in Israel gets some attention from the BBC, evidently inspired by the current Gaza conflict:
Masada legend galvanises Israel

By Paul Moss
BBC News, Masada

"You cannot surrender, you cannot give up. You should fight to the last second," the young Israeli boy said after scratching his head and thinking for just a few seconds.

He was talking about what he had learned from his tour of Masada, the ancient site where a band of Jewish rebels once held out against the might of the Roman Empire.

The tour prompted a similar conclusion from one of his female classmates: "It's really important to stand up for yourself."

They want us to vanish from the world. But it will never happen. Masada will never fall again!
Teacher at Masada

"Especially now that we're at war. We need to do whatever it takes," she told me.

It is something of a rite of passage for Israeli schoolchildren - a trip to Masada - as obligatory a part of their upbringing as exams and sports days.

And Masada is a remarkable story, albeit one that is mired in legend.

I have posted on the historicity and ideology of the Masada story here and here.

UPDATE (19 January): Jodi Magness has a post on the siege of Masada at the ASOR Blog (a blog that's new to me). (Noted on Joseph I. Lauer's list.)